Green Bay Packers: Second quarter rookie report
By Kenn Korb
Of all the rookies Green Bay has, Martinez is far and away the biggest contributor; unfortunately, that may be in both good and bad ways.
Of the three Packers’ inside linebackers, he receives the second-most snaps (behind second-year man Jake Ryan). He’s still proven to be strong in run defense, a continuance of his excellent first quarter of the year (per PFF, his run defense grade is the best among the Packers’ ILBs). He’s been huge in Green Bay staying among the best teams in the league against the run following years of the team struggling in that regard. Right now, the Packers are #6 in Run Defense DVOA; before that, they ranked #30, #24, #19 in that area from 2013-2015 respectively. Not all of that is him — play up front is integral as well — but having a player able to clean up behind them is massively important.
As great as he has been in against the run though, Martinez has been mostly a liability elsewhere.
Though he leads Green Bay’s ILBs in PFF’s run defense grades, he is at the bottom by a sizable margin in his coverage and pass rushing grades. He’s been picked on time after time by the opposition when he is forced into coverage, whether it be against tight ends, running backs, or wide receivers; despite that, he’s still gotten more snaps in those situations than the massively-better Joe Thomas (144 to 136).
At least he seems to be getting at least somewhat more competent in that regard. He has added an interception and three pass defenses in the second quarter of this season after having none in the first four games. As it stands he’s still a liability there, but Green Bay may not have much of choice but to keep using him and hoping for the best.
While we could see Green Bay try handing more obvious coverage situation snaps to Thomas, it isn’t quite that simple. Martinez’s usual ILB counterpart Ryan isn’t good in coverage either, so even if Martinez is taken out of the game teams can still focus their offensive attack right in the heart of the defense with success. The team could turn to more nickel and dime packages — bringing in more of Micah Hyde or Kentrell Brice (the only viable options right now due to injuries) into play — but that could put a dent in their run defense ability. We may have seen some of that happening against the Colts; though they mostly held them down in yardage (82 yards on 28 carries), there were a handful of plays where Green Bay stuck with a nickel or dime package look which may have hurt them.
The hope as the season continues has to be that either Martinez or Ryan (if not both) manages to elevate their play in passing situations, giving them the ability to be comfortable having one of those guys out there for any type of play. With his stronger ability against the run already cemented, the Packers would probably prefer to see the one who steps up in that aspect be Martinez.
Whether or not he does could shape the rest of his rookie season. In the meantime, he should be an overall capable (if flawed) piece to their defensive gameplans.